A dispute which has divided one of Britain's oldest families reached a bitter climax yesterday with the sale of the entire contents of a stately home.
More than 800 lots acquired over half a millennium, including the most complete collection of family portraiture in Anglo-Irish history, were sold at auction on the orders of dowager Lady Marion Langham against the express wishes of her son, the 16th baronet, Sir John.
The two fell out in a row over a glasshouse on the estate of Tempo Manor, near Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh.
In an attempt to escape inheritance tax, Sir John's father, Sir James Langham, who died three years ago, had gifted the contents of the Victorian manor house to his estranged wife Lady Marion, 64, who lives in a bungalow in the grounds with her French partner. The estate itself went to his eldest son who lives in the six-bedroom manor with his wife Lady Sarah and their family. Mother and son are no longer on speaking terms and have become embroiled in a public slanging match. Both attended the sale at Slane Castle, Co Dublin, yesterday.
Sir John, who is desperate to keep the collection of paintings, furniture, royal and botanical ephemera together, was trying to buy back some of the pieces. He paid €18,360 (£12,500) for a 19th century portrait by John James Masquerier of his ancestor Sir James Hay Langham. Estimates of the value of the sale reached in excess of €1.5m.
The star of the auction was a portrait of Sir James Langham, the 7th baronet, by the 18th century painter Francis Cotes which trebled its estimate to fetch €300,000. It was bought by Richard Green, a Bond Street art dealer.
Sir John, 43, a web designer, has been quoted as saying he will not speak to his mother for "as long as a I live". The family moved to the 300-acre estate set among woodland and rivers in Co Fermanagh 150 years ago, after selling the family seat of Cottesbrooke Hall in Northamptonshire - which was said to be the inspiration for Jane Austen's Mansfield Park.
The family fortune was earned by the original Sir John who dominated the spice trade and was an ally of Charles II during the Restoration.
A message on the Tempo Manor website yesterday revealed the depth of the rancour: "We are saddened to report that Marion Lady Langham has now removed the contents of Tempo Manor for auction. As custodian of the contents, she feels constrained, for personal financial reasons, to sell these historic family portraits and other artefacts ... These family treasures have been held in trust for generations; their removal means that, tragically, this generation will be the last to enjoy them in their entirety."